Tuesday, May 1, 2007

A day in the life of the minors

Today was the ultimate “only in the minors” type of day at Visalia. Recreation Park in Visalia is about 60-something years old and pretty much needs to be imploded. There is no visitors radio booth. I’m on a table next to the press box underneath a Bud Light canopy. I’m just above the crowd, so the folks in the closest rows can hear every word (no seven-second delay either). A fairly small crowd, so I’m self conscious as it is, knowing they can probably hear every word – especially if Modesto does something good and I go crazy.

But first, rewind to batting practice. The daily "Jerry Weinstein" show is recorded, edited, and ready to be fired from the laptop. My lineups are in the scorebook. My stats are next to the lineup names. We have a pitcher doing a “simulated game” before batting practice. Back in my days as a newspaper beat writer, this would mean standing around, taking notes, charting or counting pitches, talking to the pitcher, and pitching coach, and hitters afterward, and making a lead note out of it.

Instead, I was in the outfield shagging flyballs. Yes, I was shagging flies. Not because I had to, or was asked to, but because I asked if it was OK because I thought it would be cool to do -- and it was.

Extremely cool.

Granted, the first ball hit at me in right-center was a rope, I broke in, heard a reliever yell “back” and felt it whiz over my head and felt like a total schmuck for mis-judging the ball so badly. But I settled down and caught four balls in all, and one was a damn fine running catch if I do say so myself. It nearly took the glove off my hand too. I choked on two others I should have caught and missed cutting off a couple balls in the gap. Damnit.

But I didn’t get conked in the head, didn’t hit any of the pitchers while throwing the ball back into the dude on bucket patrol for the day, didn’t totally humiliate myself, and had a blast. Just as I took the field, Elton John's, "Tiny Dancer" was being played over the ballpark's speakers.

Felt like it was my own "Almost Famous" moment. Definitely the highlight of the season.

Then the game started. We didn’t get connected with the radio station until well past we were supposed to go on the air. (Fortunately, it was an internet-only broadcast.) They started the game almost two minutes early too. I had to cutoff the manager show early because the game was starting. During the broadcast, in the middle of an inning, I somehow ordered a bottle of water from a waitress when I thought it was free.

When I pulled out a five and motioned for change, so I could tip her, I was handed $1.25 back. So I guess the waters aren’t free or else that was a helluva tip. I was going to ask about this, but I was on the air. The equipment manager sent me a text message in the fifth asking what sandwich I wanted from Togo’s. I managed to type “r beef. wheat. 6.” during a half inning.

Doubt I missed a pitch. Doing a broadcast outdoors wasn’t too bad when the sun was out … then the sun went down, the wind kicked up, then reallllly kicked up, and I froze my butt off the last 3-4 innings. There’s no lights above me, so it was like broadcasting in the dark. I could barely see a thing in my scorebook.

Notes to self: bring a jacket tomorrow, bring morepaper weights, and bring a flashlight.

As I’m walking to the bus quickly – so I didn’t get left, like I did Saturday night in the ghetto part of San Bernardino (think tattoo shops and churches with metal bars) – the lady at the concession stands asks if I’m with Modesto. When I say yes, she stuffs my arms with about 25 slices of pizza. So I hop on the bus and suddenly become the most popular radio announcer in the Cal League, walking down the aisle and passing out cold pizza to hungry ballplayers.

Later I’m back in the hotel room. The wireless isn’t working. I can’t post my game wrapup to the Nuts website. I’m watching the A’s rally at Fenway Park on ESPN. Instead of crafting a story about this for a couple hundred thousand readers, I simply get to enjoy my boyhood team rally for a win.

We’re staying at the Lamplighter here in Visalia. I have a roommate … it’s the Togo’s gathering clubbie. The players are just outside dropping off their uniforms because they wore them on the bus back to the hotel. They didn’t shower at the ballpark because only two of the showers there work. I’m not sure what we’ll do after Thursday’s game, considering we are bussing back to Modesto (a three-hour ride) immediately after the game. That could smell really bad.

At least I’m catching up on my movie watching on these bus trips. Casino Royale and Déjà vu was our viewing material Monday afternoon from San Bernardino toVisalia. We saw the new version of The Natural when coming back from San Jose a few weeks ago. Cheezy to watch it on a bus of baseball players, but fitting and that made it extra cool.

This was the day before I decided that an extra 90 minutes of sleep was worth driving myself from Modesto to San Jose. Felt pretty good about my decision until after the game, when I got to my car, and saw where a foul ball hit my front windshield and the broken glass spidering throughout the window. There does 300 bucks that I don't have.

I must admit, there are times I wonder what in the world I was thinking with this career move. There are other times when I just think that I’ll appreciate the major leagues even more when I get back there.

Then there are other moments that I savior, like my running catch in the outfield during batting practice today, when a player comes up to me after the game and says his uncle enjoyed hearing me call the game on the internet, when the manager looks at me after our daily pregame show and says “that was a good one” and later requests a copy of every show to date, or when I get tiny little goosebumps hearing my own call of the final out of our pitcher’s two-hit, complete-game shutout Monday.

I have no idea if I’m really any good at this. But I’m sure having fun doing it.

At least, I’m having fun when I’m not freezing my butt off from an outdoor press box, while somehow ordering a water and text messaging my dinner order during the middle of an inning.

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